TV: The Suspicious Housekeeper

December 20, 2013
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OK, so the me of three weeks ago would never have told you this, but seriously guys, you have to watch this hit new Korean Drama. It’s called the Suspicious Housekeeper. Let me explain.

A friend of mine is thinking of moving to South Korea, but knows nothing of the culture (and I know very little myself). So, one Sunday afternoon, I searched “Korean drama” online, and from a list of Top 10 Airing Shows, I picked the one with the most interesting sounding name – the Suspicious Housekeeper – and sent her that. 20 minutes later, I thought, “Why not watch a bit; see what it’s like?” One episode later, my roommate came home and asked what I was watching. 10 minutes later, she was hooked as well.

And yes, just 10 minutes later, because here’s the first thing – so much happens in 10 minutes, it’s plenty of time to get hooked. Each episode is just over an hour long, without commercials, so you get to the end and the whole storyline has changed from the start. No more of that “this character is up to something suspicious/has a secret” for 3 episodes, like an American drama. You see the suspicious behavior, and then, less than 10 minutes later, someone else finds out and all hell breaks loose.

The Suspicious Housekeeper
Crazy Korean family drama

The whole show is a Korean remake of a Japanese show “I’m Mita, Your Housekeeper” (which I tried out, but vastly preferred the Korean cast). The plot: the Gyeol family is mourning the death of their mother, who drowned in a river (mysteriously, I might add). The four kids (sister, brother, brother and sister in that order) are naturally distraught, and the 3-year-old in particular cries a hell of a lot in Episode 1… get through it, it’s worth it.

The hapless father is too busy working to look after the house and kids, so hires Park Bok-nyeo, (pronounced, bizarrely, Pun-Nyoneem) the suspicious housekeeper of the title. She never smiles, she does everything perfectly, and she obeys every order she’s given. Every order. In the first episode, in a tearful rage, the eldest girl asks the housekeeper to destroy all her mother’s old things. One minute later, Park Bok-nyeo is lighting a fire in the backyard.

The result is that all the family wounds, buried under silence and quiet suffering, get exposed one by one. Guilt, lust, the pain of loss, revenge, Park Bok-nyeo facilitates everyone’s self-destruction as she follows instructions from mourning little girls and angsty teenagers without batting an eyelid. Drawn into the web are the nosy neighbor, the messed-up teen crush, the mistress, the boss, the angry father-in-law… then they’re all set loose on each other. And in the meantime, we slowly piece together what has made the maid this way.

You know how, in an American show, stuff happens in the first two episodes to hook you in, then there’s a mid-season double bill to advance the plot, and finally a cliffhanger season closer? And everything in between is subplot and subplot and some slowly building tension? Well, in the Suspicious Housekeeper, every episode feels like that mid-season reveal.

The result is like a rich cake – you can’t rush through 4 episodes in a row, you have to savor them. There are some truly lovely characters that you can root for, some total shits who you wish bad things on… and then you’re introduced to even bigger shits to make you root for everyone else against them. Damn near everyone has some redeeming qualities you can come to like or at least respect.

No, they don’t have the budget to make decent special effects or car chases or fires. Locations are heavily reused – everyone seems to go to the same place to contemplate, for example. But they make up for it with so much style. The four kid actors are the stars. They are all really very good.

And so far, this is the extent of my knowledge of the whole genre.  What this means is, I have no idea if ALL Korean drama is this good, or if it was a fluke that I found gold on my first go.

So, watch it. Watch it with a friend. Let us know if you liked it. And in the meantime, I’ll watch some other dramas… you know, for research… and let you know what’s good.

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